I know I'm behind the times on American Horror Story, but this girl cut the cord with cable. Many Roku-having horror fans such as myself watched the franchise's second-most recent franchise this fall (AHS: Apocalypse is currently airing on FX). The other night I finally finished AHS: Cult on Netflix, then promptly went to sleep and dreamed that a man who looked not unlike Donald Trump was chasing me with a knife. I did it to myself, watching it so late at night. But it might also be true that Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk did it to me. I admire the way that this season was able to tap into contemporary American fears about politics, sex, and violence in a way that felt contemporary.
As usual, I want to talk about poetry and pop culture, and more specifically, poetry and television. It's one of my weird obsessions, and maybe it's yours too. You can imagine my delight when I learned, via my liberal use of closed captions, that Ally & Ivy's son was not named "Ozzy" as in "Ozzy Osbourne" but "Ozy" as in "Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
The son of main characters Ally (Sarah Paulson) and Ivy (Alison Pill) is named Ozymandias, which is the name of the most famous poem by English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822). Ozymandias is a Greek name for Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II. Not only is "Ozymandias" Shelley's most well-known and most anthologized poem, I would argue that "Ozymandias" is also one of the most frequently referenced poems in contemporary pop culture in general. It's popped up in the aforementioned Frisky Dingo, The Watchmen franchise, and elsewhere. The most famous reference to this particular Shelley poem, I would say, is in another relatively poetry-heavy TV show: Breaking Bad. I plan to say more about the poetry of Breaking Bad in some subsequent blog posts.
I've seen a lot of folks trying to offer close readings of the Shelley poem in response to this season of AHS, and most of them are performed by non-practitioners (one EliteDaily writer even morosely confessed, "I feel like I'm writing a paper for an English literature survey course right now"). I think a number of these interpretations are either too stuffy or too fluffy. I'll do my best to stay somewhere near the middle and keep it brief. Spoilers ahead:
CAITLIN COWAN has been getting way too excited about setting poetry up on a blind date with popular culture since the early 1990s. This is her website.